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Land Over Fees

by  Mbe Mbhele

date: 10 April 2016


Wits Fees Must Fall students protested for the lowering of tuition fees at the institution last year. Photo: Yumna Mohamed/GroundUp
Wits Fees Must Fall students protested for the lowering of tuition fees at the institution last year. Photo: Yumna Mohamed/GroundUp

The call for land should not be reduced to a slogan that sensationalizes placards. It should not only be a literary achievement, which is to say it should not only exist in books, poetry and struggle songs. The demand for our dispossessed land should be a war cry to take up arms and fight for what is inarguably and rightfully ours. The footnoting of the land question has become a tendency that even those who claim to be radical and revolutionary have demonstrated. Comrades claim to be revolutionary and radical just because they can recite and regurgitate certain ideas but their understanding of revolutionary concepts has remained in abstraction and has not translated into the concrete. The recent example is the Fees Must Fall movement. The movement is being celebrated and commended for fighting for free education which is cool, but it should be cool to also mention that the related protests were sparked by an acute increment of already exorbitant tuition fees. Without undermining the necessity of rejecting even the smallest discomforts, reality is that we have an elephant in the room and we cannot continue ignoring it. It has long been established that most if not all of our oppression flows directly from land dispossession and the reaction to this knowledge makes our intentions of fighting suspect. Do we want complete liberation for all blacks or do we want to secure our chairs at the table of white power. The ability to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of blacks to fight for inclusion in universities (institutions of white power) when we have never even mobilized as students to address the land question as it manifests in SA’s townships and informal settlements makes a closer interrogation necessary. Could this be what Fanon meant when he spoke of the black’s irresistible desire to be white?

More than tuition fees, a large number of students are affected by accommodation or lack thereof. At Wits University, for example, more than 70% of students enrolled are from the outskirts of the Greater Johannesburg Region and it is impossible for them to study without having accommodation at a place which is in close proximity to the university. Accommodation costs are almost twice as much as tuition fees and Wits University does not have the capacity to accommodate all its students, leaving the majority of them with no option but to turn to private accommodation. Now, private accommodation is unaffordable because private property owners which are usually white are only interested in profits, and they increase accommodation costs at whim. Elsewhere I state that under these conditions students are turned into sophisticated hobos. The issue of accommodation is one that speaks directly to the question of land and the apparent failure by our revolutionaries to blatantly confront it is evidence of the tendency of beating around the bush when action is supposed to be taken to reclaim our land. It is cool that the Fallists at the University of Cape Town built a shack in a shoddy attempt to engage and raise the discourse around accommodation but their attempt did not translate into anything material. It instead became a symbolic exercise. The symbolism also worked against what they were trying to express because I do not believe that there is anyone who wants to live in a shack in 2016. The downtrodden black masses in the townships are tired of shacks but the supposedly educated people of our country are still building shacks in university. This is petty when there are private residences that they could have occupied to make their point. Staying in ‘’Shackville’’ ain’t on fleek.

It is common cause that any attempt to temper with property-land will be followed by extreme violence by the state because the dispossession of our land was also possible through the use of extreme violence. Revolutionaries who claim consciousness and familiarity with revolutionary theory should know that violence is an unavoidable condition for the possibility of a decolonized South Africa. Fanon makes this point clear and I have no doubt that my learned friends have mingled with his corpus. I also have little doubt that my comrades have no fear because they have demonstrated their bravery by taking to the union buildings singing war songs like‘dubul’ ibhunu and asinavalo. We must reject the on-going narrative of celebrating defeat. We are not like the 1976 generation that failed to materially change conditions of black people. We are still fighting against a language policy that they fought for decades ago. The only thing they achieved is hanging in galleries and museums while we are still experiencing oppression from the same force that they were fighting. I am not taking away from the gains that were made by our martyrs but for us to move forward it is important that we go to their tombs to work with them and against them.

We are our only hope. Let us take to the streets and fight. Die if we have to but we must fight and fight genuinely. We are the Woke generation and we will get the land back because it does not just belong to us but also to all the black people that will come after us.


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